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On witless critics, John Healy and an offer Pastor Jones can't refuse

Updated: Jan 1


As an unpublished author I thought everything would be plain sailing once I had my first book on the shelves; the journalism commissions would roll in, I’d be free to give up all other forms of work and my biggest worry would be deciding which cravat to wear to the Groucho, where I would challenge my many critics to a duel.

Two novels and two years down the line, I’m still stuck; doing jobs I don’t want to do, unable to interest newspapers in any of my ideas, craving a little time and a little space in which to complete novel #3.

Neither of my two books have had one review in a national; meanwhile today’s Times yet again focuses on Stephen Hawking (so last week),John Irving and Kurt Vonnegut, who despite being dead (so it goes...) I’m sure will welcome the publicity. Does literary editor (and 100% American) Erica Wagner have any interest in books set in an England most readers recognise, other than yet another droolathon over the fucking Mitford sisters?

Take these three introductory sentences for fiction reviews from today's paper:

"Balthazar is a Beefeater who lives in the Tower of London with his Greek wife, Hebe."

"Li Jing, asuccessful financier, meets his father for dinner at a grand hotel in Shanghai."

"In Buenes Aires in the mid-1970s a ten-year-old boy..."

Meanwhile the Times bookclub rightly picks “The Grass Arena” as a suitable subject for analysis and then Rosemary Bennett spends the whole column slagging it off. I know I’m biased – I’ve interviewed John Healy and have more time for him than for every lit. ed. and critic in London put together – but it sounds as if Bennett either doesn’t believe Healy’s account of his life, or finds it too believable to be interesting. To condemn Bennett with her own words:

“I don’t really understand the leap from violent and unloving father to heavy drinking.”

Really, Rosemary? You really can’t fathom that huge leap? Anyonewho leaves The Grass Arena unmoved has no right calling themselves a “social affairs” editor, and certainly should not be let loose to review books – in the Times,or anywhere else.

Still, at least Healy is getting reviewed. Maybe I need to stop pretending that good writing is enough to get you in the public eye. What I need is a publicity stunt. Which is why, as a completely selfless gesture to world peace I‘d like to make a generous offer to Pastor Terry Jones. Don’t burn the Koran, pastor, burn “Out of Office” instead. Just £5.99 from Amazon. Or buy it with “Fire Horses” for just £11.98. World peace, and a nice warm bonfire to boot. Come on Reverend, you know it makes sense...

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